In its current state WoT is a perfectly enjoyable, robust multiplayer shooter. Most of what makes the PC original such a compelling experience has been retained, and there's been some changes that perfectly suit its transition to the control pad.
The main thing that you need to know is that the core remains. Two teams of tanks from the Second World War era take each other on across maps inspired by the period. Each tank has but one life, and players build up experience by completing successful actions on the field of battle (capture objectives, spot enemies, cause damage). Earning enough XP allows players to research and buy better tanks, building up their options and advancing through World of Tanks' leveling system. That's the game, in a nutshell.
There's two experiences to be had; one that costs and one that doesn't. Both are fun, but there's significant differences between the two.
On the free-to-play side of things you need to start from the bottom of the pile, upgrading your initially fragile tanks as you painstakingly move up through the ranks. It's a spartan way to play, with little room for manoeuvre as you accrue the experience needed to move up the food chain.
In the other money's no object; you can equip your tank with the best ammunition, upgrade your vehicle with consumables (repair kits, fire extinguishers) that might just save you in a pinch, and accelerate through the levelling up process much faster than the free-to-players. While it's fair to say that there's less stress involved in the paying option, World of Tanks retains its credibility by ensuring that both paths are enjoyable and fair.
Non-paying gamers start off with three tanks, all of the light and medium variety. This means that your vehicles aren't particularly durable, but they are manoeuvrable in a way that leaves the more powerful tanks in the dust. All tanks fulfill a specific role in battle, and light tanks are there to scout out the field and identify targets for their more powerful brethren. Medium tanks are, in those first few games at least, the more powerful pieces on the board, able to easily bring their muscle to bear. As your level increases it's not long before heavy tanks (and artillery and tank destroyers) arrive on the scene, at which point the mediums adopt a different role - a hybrid between the power of the heavies and the mobility of the light tanks.
Both starting options are tricky to master. Light tanks are great for learning the game's maps as you scoot around in search of targets, whereas medium tanks sit in a space of their own that's hard to define - they're great if you've got a team of them working together, hunting like a pack, but on their own they can be dealt with quite easily. Vulnerabilities aside, both classes of tanks are good ways of learning the ropes, as they encourage the thoughtful play and a careful approach that are the hallmarks of combat in World of Tanks.
Advancing through the opening levels is fairly straightforward, although there's a ceiling waiting just around the corner. Depending on your ability, at around level five or six progress slows down significantly. If you haven't already, this might be the moment to start thinking about making an investment in the game - the other option is a long, hard grind.
Throwing down a chunk of change at this point - or even earlier - makes for a different experience altogether. Wargaming sent over a month's worth of premium (that's increased XP earned after each match), as well as a stack of gold (the game's real-money currency) to spend as I saw fit. At first my main goal was to unlock as many British tanks as possible with the line of credit I'd been given. After a while I changed tact, turning my attention to see if it was possible to pay-to-win. Happily, it's not. Unlocking higher level tanks just puts you up against much better players who'll happily blast you to pieces regardless of the vehicle you're driving. In the lower levels buying the best consumables and upgrades possible may give you the slightest of edges, but it's not enough to change the way you play or make you feel significantly more powerful than you did with the standard issue ammunition.
Regardless of whether you pay or not, there's a few truths that play out across the board. Heavy tanks, tank destroyers and artillery are (for the most part) less mobile but pack a mighty punch over longer distances, while medium and light tanks scurry around the field looking to exploit weaknesses in the enemy line. The further up the tech tree you travel, the more pronounced and specialised the different models become. All use the same controls; moving and aiming with analog sticks, zooming and shooting with the triggers, and different coloured reticles offer information on how to best approach a target (for example, red means your ammo will punch through their armour and do damage).
There's three different modes to play - although they're not too dissimilar and for the most part you'll be playing the capture-and-hold mode that's simply called Standard. Encounter (one capture point for both teams to attack) and Assault (one team attacks) are thrown in for some occasional variety. There's a timer, but it's very rare for a game to a to take the full fifteen minutes; a base has either been captured, or one team has been wiped out by the other before the clock runs down.
There's an experience system that unlocks the various tanks and equipment needed in-game. Gold is what you get for real money, and it can unlock a handful of special tanks and additional consumables to boost your chances in battle. Two types of XP can be earned, one is tied to the tank it was earned with, while 'free XP' is earned in smaller amounts and can be spent as and when you choose. Silver is also earned in battle, and can be spent on buying the items you've unlocked through spending XP.
It looks like it should be a complex tech tree, but it's actually surprisingly straightforward to advance through it. The complexity comes from an unexpected place; the combat. There's so many variables in the game, and each tank class has a strength and weakness that can be used or exploited. There's different ammunition with different levels of penetration, and some ammo types are more effective at close range than others. On the outside it might just look like big, metallic monsters brutishly blasting the crap out of each other, but there's actually a refreshing amount of tactical depth that slowly reveals itself over time.
There's currently seven maps on the Xbox 360 Edition, which represents much less variety than there is in the PC version. It doesn't take long before it starts to feel a little bit like groundhog day. Some of the levels are really interesting, with contoured landscapes, buildings to hide behind, and natural bottlenecks where the action tends to gravitate. Other maps are wide open spaces, and since venturing into the open is nearly always a fatal error, action tends to funnel down channels on either side. These open levels aren't terrible, but their design means the relatively low number of maps is more keenly felt.
When stacked up against the PC version, World of Tanks on the Xbox 360 pales a little in comparison. Wargaming has stripped out some of the complexity of that game - which makes it more accessible in the short term, but is a detractor for those looking to invest a significant amount of time in the longterm - but in hindsight it's probably for the best given the platform. The simplified meta-game, the smaller number of tanks, and the limited selection of maps in the console version means that it's the PC original you should check out if you can. Most won't be able to, and if you've never played the PC original you'll never know what you're missing.
The Xbox 360 Edition of World of Tanks might lack the visual crispness and depth of its PC brethren, but there's still plenty of reasons why it's worth a look. For a start it's free, and the free-to-play model has been implemented in a way that you won't feel cheated regardless of your level of financial investment (or lack thereof). It's also a really interesting shooter that offers a change of pace that console gamers will likely appreciate, with a surprising amount of depth lurking under its hulking facade.
Everything's in place for World of Tanks to grow into something really decent on Xbox 360. It feels a little thin on content right now, but given time and support, it's easy to envisage a very positive future for Wargaming's online multiplayer shooter, even in the confines of the console space.
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